Meet Ingrid: A photographer and videographer from Peru. Her partner, Matty, is a musician and artist from New York. Together, they are spreading the awareness of the environment and being vegan. They are driving across North America sharing ways others can travel while still being conscious of their environmental impact.
It's no surprise that we wholeheartedly support that message.
Square Feet: 116
Make, Model, Year: Ford E-250 2005
We chose the Ford E250 4x4 Quigley conversion because we wanted a strong, practical and reliable vehicle. Before choosing this particular van, we researched and looked at a lot of other people's rigs. It seemed that the VW or Westfalias are very popular but they break down a lot. I guess that's part of their charm, but we weren't into that. We're surfers, and to get to remote waves, we needed a 4x4 that wouldn't break down on us in the middle of nowhere, putting us in dangerous situations. At the same time, Ford vehicles are easy to find in Central and South America and parts are cheap. It was perfect because we were able to buy it as an empty shell, building it specifically to our own needs without having to adapt to something already built in.
Years Living Mobile: 1
We have been living in our van full time for almost a year now.
Currently Living: La Ticla, Mexico
We took the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan in early March and currently we are in La Ticla. We'll continue on the coast road until the end of April when our visas expire. Then, we will cross the border to Guatemala and stay for a few weeks. We'll come back to Mexico again for another six months because this country is too big to see so fast.
What were you doing before you went mobile?
We lived with Matty's dad in Sag Harbor, New York, for about a year. He supported us as we were getting ready for the trip and we were able to save money.
I worked in a health food store part time, while also working as a freelance photographer. Before we left for our trip, I had a successful show, which helped fund our dream. Matty worked as a painter, mostly for galleries. As a musician, he also played gigs on the weekends.
The East End of Long Island—the Hamptons—is a beautiful area. It's really busy in the summers and really quiet in the winters. This balance gave us time to be creative and focus on personal projects during the cold months. Matty grew up in Sag Harbor, and I moved there eight years ago.
It seemed to us that every year was a repeat of the last, even with the trips we would do here and there. We were at a point where we were going to try to put down roots in Sag Harbor and chain ourselves into a mortgage like everyone else, or we could do the opposite. We didn't want any chains.
Why did you decide to take this trip?
We wanted to explore a new way of living while visiting new places, meeting new people and experiencing life more intensely, richly, truly and wholly.
Our inspiration to live small and travel came from a good college friend of mine, Sol. She traveled with her husband (then boyfriend) all over South and Central America in an old VW van several years ago. And I remember seeing photos on Facebook and thinking how amazing it seemed. She even traveled with her two kids. They kept going for a while, but now they live in Ecuador.
I would show Matty her photos and we would talk about how cool it would it be to do a trip like that. Or move into a van and go out in the world in search of empty waves and warm weather. This was a while ago, and at the time, it seemed like an impossible dream. But where there's a will, there is a way. And here we are.
We have a strong spirit of adventure and we love to surf. We like to engage in the process of using, maintaining and developing skills that we have been acquired over the years.
What was the process like to move into your mobile home?
Arduous. Tedious. Painstakingly slow. The process involved a lot of thinking, dreaming, researching, planning, drawing, list making and working on our hands and knees and an enormous amount of sorting, packing, moving, cleaning and organizing.
The van came as an empty shell, which was perfect for us at the time. We put 200 square feet of reflective insulation on the walls and floor. We installed a fantastic fan for ventilation, which is very necessary if you are living in a van. We also installed a Goal Zero solar panel that can charge our electronics and LED lights. We designed everything to fit our needs, including adding a wood frame for our bed, a full memory foam mattress, a book shelf and a cooking/pantry station with two spice racks. Since we are vegan, we cook a lot.
We changed the base of the passenger seat to a swivel chair so we could hang out more comfortably. We installed aluminum racks and a ladder on the back door. And recently we got a Yakima cargo box for our winter gear.
We sold some stuff before we left and left a bunch of boxes in storage at Matty's dad's place. But honestly, I don't think we need anything of the things we left behind.
How do you fund your travels?
We worked toward this goal for two years by moving in with Matt’s dad to save on rent for part of that time. We sold our vehicles and a bunch of other stuff too.
Ingrid did an art show a couple of months before leaving and did a good job selling several big prints. On the road, Matty plays guitar on streets or at small venues for cash. We also have seasonal jobs back in Long Island for the summer to work so we can continue traveling.
How do you balance work and living in a small space?
Very simply. By working and living in that small space, they seem to balance out. The nature of van life calls for specific amount of work each day, and each take a certain amount of dedication and devotion.
Where do you park?
Our van is very low profile, which is something we did on purpose. It's another reason why we chose this specific van. Our trip is so long that honestly we can't afford to pay for camping, so we avoid paid camping as much as possible.
While we were in the States, we found National Forest or BLM land outside National Parks and camped there for the night. It was usually free and very quiet. We call van living "prime real estate." Sometimes we are able to park next to huge houses with the same ocean view, like in Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz or Swamis in southern California. We would even meet the neighbors, spend a few days there, surf, have a great time, but without the overhead, the taxes and the hustle. Once we were done, we would leave and keep driving south. We met the owner of a beautiful $3 million home at Swamis one time. He said he would love to be traveling in a van like ours and gave us props for our decision. He said, "You guys are lucky. You are like the fish that escape the net!" That has stayed with me since he said it.
Where do you shower?
Anywhere we can. Truck stops, national parks, RV parks, YMCAs, friends' houses, strangers' houses, in between cars when it rains heavy, beach showers, etc. But we mostly shower at friends' or friendly peoples' houses. Recently, we showered at an RV park in La Paz for 35 pesos ($2 dollars) each.
What are your hobbies on and off the road?
Ingrid: Photographing, surfing, reading and writing
Matty: Making music, making art, surfing and making love to my wife
Ingrid's top three go-to items:
Camera: It helps document our lives and express myself, and it’s also my working tool.
Hat: It’s brutally sunny most of the time.
Pee Bottle: This has saved me in many cold nights and urban places where there was no toilet available.
Matty's top three go-to items:
Camera: There are so many new sights, settings, people and amazing natural light.
Guitar: It's what I have to bring to the table, whether it's connecting with other people, establishing a vibration, for fun and entertaining purposes as well as general practice.
Surfboard: It's a valuable tool for exercise and work purposes, as well as a playful toy for leisure time activities.
Favorite Destinations: National Parks and Baja, California
What is the most rewarding thing about living small?
Minimal overhead. Not paying rent directly. Surfing every day. Having only what you want and need. Being in nature all the time. The little things.
What is the most challenging thing?
It's difficult not having a reliable and consistent source of income, as well as driving all the time and not having a toilet.
It's easy to laugh now remembering that time when a whole gallon of water spilled in the van and went right under the vinyl floor soaking all the insulation underneath. What a nightmare! We had to take absolutely everything out, pull the flooring up, cut up the insulation and dry it, while we sat and checked on our belongings that were everywhere. Oh well...shit happens sometimes. Now it makes a good story.
What is your advice to people who want to live small or hit the road?
Get to it. Life is easier when you scale down. You experience more real things, instead of logistics.
Everything’s a-ok for the moment. People have been—for the most part—very sharing, considerate, amiable, hospitable and generally receiving and well natured.